A Blast from the Past

I came across a rather interesting video this week that really got me thinking.  This video was produced in 1947 and depicts a demonstration of women’s self-defense techniques.  Take a look at both the production elements as well as the techniques chosen and the style the techniques were presented in.  It is surprising to me how similar this presentation is to the sort of self-defense demonstration that we martial artists might present today.

I encountered this video on youtube.  It was posted by TeamKM2009.  The video was posted on October 10th, 2011.  It was produced and directed by William Forest Church under Soundies Films Inc. in 1947: a Filmcraft production.  I don’t know anything about the user, TeamKM2009, but this is a nifty video that they shared in how it really shows a point along a continuous martial arts tradition.

The short film appears to have been rather professionally produced.  It has a big band soundtrack that was common in popular films at that time.  There are plenty of extras to complement the scene.  Clearly, there was enough interest in this subject back then to warrant some real time and money to be invested in the creation of this short film.  This could imply that even way back in 1947 there was a significant interest in martial arts for self defense – even women’s self defense.  Perhaps the female martial artist depicted in this film was a member of a well developed school that existed back then.

It really hit me how similar the self defense techniques were back then to what we practice today.  In the film, I noticed the female practitioner execute a one arm shoulder throw, multiple armbars including an armbar- hair grab takedown, a hip throw, a circular throw, a side kick, a neck lock escape from a headlock, an overhead-strike knife defense resulting in a reinforced-shoulder-lock takedown, gun defense from rear, a shoulder throw using a rope, and an uppercut punch (and she did it all in heels!).  These were all executed in response to attacks that we modern day martial artists also train for; we too learn how to defend against grabs from the rear and assaults from the front just like the ones depicted in the video.  Times may change, but the tactical necessities of self-defense stay the same.  This case in point verification of this thought was mind-blowing to me at the time I first watched this video.

An illustration from the European Renaissance depicting knife defense. Note how the top image that looks like our circular throw. How much do times change?

It was a time when a mind blowing thought occurs and it is just as quickly followed by the thought, “well of course it’s that way, silly!”  Not only are the techniques we learn techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years, but the self-defense situations we may find ourselves in haven’t changed much either.  Today, we prepare against being attacked from the front or rear or grabbed from some direction; martial artists hundreds of years ago prepared for the same thing.  Even something seemingly as novel as the firearm could easily have been encountered in a self defense situation two hundred years ago.  Again, it seems so simple to just say these things, and I’m most certain that everyone reading this is probably saying, “well duh, of course.”

However, it was still a remarkable experience for me to watch this video and see first hand how continuous our martial tradition is – the tradition of all martial arts that is.  It’s the difference between being told how things are versus actually seeing with one’s own eyes how things actually are; the latter is much more powerful and, at times, earthshaking.  Times may change, but the practicality of martial arts always remains the same.  Martial arts are always necessary for those who desire to live freely.

What do you think?

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